Guard, Reserve Observe Suicide Prevention Month
This entry was posted on 9/20/2008 9:09 PM and is filed under Politics '08 - 08.
By AmericasNewsToday.Org staff
Sergeant Smith has started coming to work late.
The usually punctual, upbeat soldier has not been on time for two weeks straight, and he seems withdrawn and distracted. His co-workers don’t want to pry, but they know he’s just ended a two-year relationship with his girlfriend and he took the breakup pretty badly.
On top of that, his unit got the word that in six months they will be deploying to Afghanistan again. Yesterday Sergeant Smith gave away an entire binder of CDs to another soldier, claiming he didn’t have use for them any more. During his lunch breaks, he sits at his desk with headphones on and writes letters to various people in his family.
If someone you know displays this type of behavior, Army Chaplain (Maj.) Douglas Brown said, you may need to ask the person if everything is OK.
"When someone is thinking about hurting themselves, they often show signs of odd behavior," said Brown, the post deputy chaplain at Camp Atterbury, Ind., "[such as] not talking as much, withdrawing from former pleasures, giving away possessions."
The Army observed National Suicide Prevention Week last week, and from Sept. 6 through Oct. 5 the Army National Guard and Army Reserve are observing Suicide Prevention Month. The Army is encouraging soldiers to watch out for their battle buddies, and as one way to encourage intervention, they’re promoting the "ACE" – Ask, Care, Escort – concept, and have printed up wallet-size cards to explain it to soldiers:
— Ask your buddy the question directly: Are you thinking about killing yourself?
— Care for your buddy by listening, staying calm and removing harmful items from his/her possession.
— Escort your buddy to someone within your chain of command, the chaplain or a behavioral health professional.Dr. Marsha Rockey, a psychologist in the behavioral health office at Camp Atterbury, said that most of the time a soldier is seen immediately when he or she comes in.
"The first thing we do is figure out how to keep them safe and how to get them the help they need," she said, "so they don’t feel like hurting themselves is the only solution."
Rockey said when troops come to see her, she and the person come up with a safety plan where they find someone to stay with the servicemember at all times and get the servicemember to give up the means of self-injury.
She said one mistaken belief that people have about suicide is that there’s no stopping a person who decides to do it. "Most people don’t want to die; they just want help," Rockey said. "They just don’t want to be in pain, whether that’s psychological or physical pain."
Rockey said one way a buddy can help is by talking to the person in a direct manner.
"Don’t be afraid to ask, ‘Have you thought about killing yourself?’ " she said. "You asking about it is not going to make it worse." If the person answers "yes," she said, tell them you will help them, remind them that you care and take them somewhere to get help.
When a person is sitting in front of a screening officer, then the question, "Are you thinking of killing yourself" maybe, and I do mean maybe, ok but not from a friend. That's the worst way to ask that question. If they are not thinking of it, then they just put the idea into their friends head.
I've been to enough Chaplains training sessions to know the way you ask someone about their state of mind is as important as asking them. The last thing you want to do is basically offer a solution to someone's problem by saying " Have you thought about killing yourself?" Knowing to not say something like this is basic chaplain training and it is astonishing that a psychologist would put out this kind of information as "helpful" when dealing with someone clearly in need of help, understanding and a friend. Each word used must be carefully thought out.
Next, taking away their weapons will not work because if they are planning on killing themselves, they will find another way. They use ropes to hang themselves. Knives to cut themselves. They use their cars and motorcycles. They use pills. You cannot assume that if you take away a gun, they are safe.
The advice from the Army was fine. You need to figure out the situation carefully. Getting them the help they need is always the most important and if you are wrong, you showed your friend you care about them if it turns out to be simple depression without any danger to your friend. If it is not serious enough that they are thinking about killing themselves, at least it does help to talk to someone who cares to get them through it and should they require more help then they are in the right place to find it.
Taking this step by step:
A change in the way a person acts is a warning bell but not the only one. Some of them are great actors. People who know them very well will see the changes because they live with them and know how they reacted to all different kinds of situations. Be ready to listen to a spouse or a parent if they should begin to talk to you about their concerns.
Giving away possessions is common unless they have a habit of doing it. There are a lot of generous people out there who just cannot develop a connection to material objects. If they are giving away a lot of what they have all of a sudden then that is an alarm bell.
Talking less, drinking more are alarms.
Change in personal hygiene is an alarm. Someone who is suddenly a slob, not concerned with the way they look, not showering or shaving, not eating, all should cause alarms.
Someone who was usually happy, liked being around people, no longer laughing and avoiding friends and functions is a scream for help. Basically changes in character means changes inside.
The real emergency arises if they talk about killing themselves, have a plan, a means to do it and have exhibited any of the other warning signs.
Sometimes it's just talk because they cannot find the right words to explain how they feel. You may have had friends in such deep emotional pain that will say "I just want to die" but had no plan on doing it or intention to die. In that moment of extreme pain, they want to communicate the depth of that pain. Asking them "Have you thought about killing yourself" is the worst thing to ask them. Ask them what's going on and then give them time to formulate the words to let you know. Don't push them for an answer because you are in a hurry. This is important enough to have your full attention.
If you do anything, make sure they know what they tell you is being heard by someone who cares about them and will stand by them until they get better. They need to know they are worth your time and you are a real friend to them. They need to know you are watching their backs just as observantly as you did in combat.
You also need to know if they are thinking about harming anyone else. This is a whole other topic.
For now, just make sure you don't put ideas into their heads that they may not be thinking of. I can't believe a psychologist even suggested such a thing. I can only hope she was not thinking clearly in the interview and used a very poor choice of words.
"You asking about it is not going to make it worse." If the person answers "yes," she said, tell them you will help them,,,,,,,,"
Again very poor choice of words or really, really dangerous advice. Asking them with that choice of words is making it worse and allowing them to think that suicide is an option. Then by adding in "you will help them" allows them to think you will help them kill themselves. These are people in crisis and these are the last words they need to hear.
It is great the Guard and Reserves are taking all of this seriously but we all have to. Communities these men and women coming back to need to be aware of the signs to watch out for and given the tools they need to help. If everyone is involved in their healing there will be a lot of lives saved. Knowledge is not only power but could very well save their lives.
Senior Chaplain Kathie Costos
"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation." - George Washington